Tribeca 2015: 'CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap' Doc Hits Hard at the Tech Industry

'CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap'

“We’re building products for a diverse society, and we need the people that build them to represent that diversity."

"Women have always been an equal part of the past, just not an equal part of history," said Robin Hauser Reynolds, who quoted Gloria Steinem during a Tribeca Film Festival panel for the documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap, which explores the major lack of women working in software engineering and programming industries.

Joining Reynolds on the panel were GoDaddy's chief people officerAuguste Goldman, Etsy's director of engineering and infrastructure Jason Wong and Qualcomm’s chief learning officer Tamar Elkeles.

The Hollywood Reporter rounds up the six key points of their discussion on the film's essence: addressing women's and minorities' representation in the tech industry.

1. Reynolds' daughter inspired her interest. Her daughter was studying computer science in college and was one of just two women in a class of 35 men. “It just seemed funny,” Reynolds told THR. “If it’s one of the most lucrative jobs out of college, why are there only two women in there?” She also went in with a blank slate: “I didn’t know a thing about any of this before I started, but I think it was important not to know much about it, because it made me more curious. I wanted to picture myself sitting in theaudience.”

2. The stats are staggering. Of all college graduates in 2014, only 3 percent were computer science majors; of those majors, a mere 18 percent were women. So begins the pipeline problem, where even if employers hope to hire more women, the availability simply isn’t there. That’s why Reynolds honed in on the subject for her film. “I focused specifically on coding and programming because that’s where the biggest discrepancy is, with the gender issue the most pronounced,” she explained to the audience. “Coding is the base of pretty much everything we do.… The problem is the technology is moving a lot faster than our educational system. It’s really lagging behind and it’s got to catch up.”

3. Once-shamed companies are making a change. Goldman from GoDaddy explained that the culture needed to be addressed, both for the employees and for the product itself. “We’re building products for a diverse society, and we need the people that build them to represent that diversity,” Goldman told THR. He said they plan to spread the word. “We’re not reflecting society and who we are. We’re going to help sponsor this documentary to have screenings around the country.” Reynolds added at the panel, “If GoDaddy can change their image and corporate culture, then anybody can.”

4. The gender gap is a learned, popular culture problem. The documentary touches on many issues, even using Mean Girls as a reference when Kady thinks it’ll work in her favor to pretend to be worse at math. A recent Barbie book, Barbie Becomes a Computer Engineer, received bad press, as it had Barbie asking her male friends for help, since she couldn’t solve the “computer bug” on her own. The film includes stories from employees and managers at tech juggernauts like Twitter, Pinterest, Airbnb and Pixar. 

5. How to push things forward. “We need more role models, so that girls see someone like them and think, 'Wow, I could do that too,' ” said Reynolds. Elkeles agreed, and added, “It’s about behavior change as well, at the school level and within organizations.” Goldman was equally enthusiastic. “Everyone should code,” he said. “For elementary and high schools, they should take this as a call to action and put this in the curriculum.”

6. The film's main takeaway? According to Reynolds, by 2020, there are going to be 1 million unfilled jobs in coding in the U.S. “I hope to inspire change in how women and girls see themselves in the industry,” Reynolds told the audience, “I hope to inspire change in startup culture so they become more welcoming and inviting to women.” When asked about the timing of the documentary, film subject Aliya Rahman told THR, “A hundred years ago would’ve been a perfect time, too, but I think now we have no excuse.” She wants people to see the need for a change. “I hope audience learn that diversity isn’t just a nice thing we want to have. If we want our tech industry to be the best that it can be and make amazing things, we have to bring everybody into this.”

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